The Passion of Mel Gibson

Yesterday I got a call from a buddy of mine. A friend of his is a NY Post reporter who was looking for people to see Mel Gibson’s new Passion movie, get photographed, and provide quotes. We met up at the AMC25. They bought us popcorn and soda and we went in.

Mel Gibson presents the Jewish leadership as wanting Jesus dead because they veiwed him as a blasphemer. A subset of them bribe Judas, have Jesus captured, try him in a midnight kangaroo council, beat him up, and hand him over to the Romans. They then proceed to threaten Pontius Pilate with disorder if he does not order Jesus crucified. He eventually does so and the second half of the movie is graphic depiction of the Roman’s torturing and eventually crucifying and killing Jesus.

So objectively, it was ROMAN Pontius Pilate who ordered Jesus crucified and it was ROMAN soliders that then tortured and killed him. Nonetheless Mel Gibson tries to make the Jews take the fall — as if the ONLY reason Pilate had Jesus crucified was because the Jews wanted it and wouldn’t/couldn’t do it themselves.

However Gibson’s presentation of Pilate’s motives are at odds with our historical intuition. The Jews are not known for wanting anyone crucified (it is a Roman invention). The Romans are not known for kowtowing to the sensitivities of their subject populations. An alternative interpetation more consistent with the facts is thiat Pilate was having trouble contending with the power of the Jewish leadership in the region — would the people be loyal to Rome or the Jews? He became aware of an increasingly popular figure in the population names Jesus. He figures he can weaken loyalty to this leadership if it becomes know that they are responsible for the death of Jesus. Since they won’t kill Jesus themselves, the only alternative is for him to order it and claim it was at their behest.

In this context, Mel Gibson’s movie comes accross as a Roman propaganda piece. The Jewish leadership is portrayed as utterly venal. The torture and death portrayed completely graphically generating moral outrage among the audiece to lay at the Jews feet. I don’t know why he is doing it. Perhaps it is doing this to make money, perhaps he is working out his relationship with his father.
Either way, in a world of increasing anti-semitism, it is sad.

What concerns me is that the propoganda is effective. Some of my fellow movie goers cried. In speaking to them afterwards it was clear that many of them believed Mel’s presentation as historical fact. Most of them were probably unware that even though the screneplay was written by Gibson the substitles STILL didn’t match the aramaic. OH well.

Anyway, check out my photo in tomorrow’s NYPOST!
Update: The online version is here.

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5 Responses to The Passion of Mel Gibson

  1. i regard this as anti-semitism, pure and simple. jews torture, jews kill. and it’s worse than the venality of ANSWER and the stupidity of adbusters, because every clueless fucking christian yahoo in the red states will see it and cry. don’t you dare make more noise about european anti-semitism until you work harder to stop it at home. gibson will give millions to the republican party this year. his father is a holocaust denier. what are you doing to stop this? myself, i’m voting for kerry.

  2. andrea says:

    it’s not like mel gibson was making it all up, though. the propaganda, as it were, was written a long time ago: matthew 26:14-27:54. the story varies from gospel to gospel — mark is similar to matthew, luke is a little different, john a little more politically nuanced… but the basic gist of all the stories is that the jewish leadership in jerusalem sent jesus to be crucified by the romans for the crime of blasphemy, and that this wasn’t something the romans had much interest in one way or another but that they agreed to do it. given that christianity emerged as a protest religion, there’s not much way to get around some central breaking conflict with jews who remained unconvinced by the new prophet, as it were — but it’s a matter of political intent, whether or not one bears a grudge against the keepers of the older faith, i guess. i haven’t seen the movie, and i don’t have any interest in seeing it — but i’m curious to know if there’s anything more pointedly anti-semitic in his gore fest than what’s already available in the gospels. personally, i think you have to go looking for religious justifications for anti-semitism in the gospels, in order to find them, but if you want to find them there you will. is it the same for the movie? the nytimes review said (quite convincingly) that the brutality of the movie basically overwhelmed any spiritual message that might have been intended in the original story, and that the viewers are basically just subjected to feeling rather ill for no readily apparent religious reason — like you said in the nypost quote, it’s senseless moral outrage.

  3. Andrea,

    The movie takes pains to paint Pilate as innocent of any motivations except avoiding disorder. It even has Pilate talking to his wife pondering the nature of truth! His wife brings Mary cloth to clean up Jesus’ blood!

    But two points to observe. Even in the Gospel version you describe:
    1. The Jews did NOT kill Jesus themselves (they also don’t have a history of killing blasphemers).

    2. Pilate (and Roman control) was threatened by the power and influence of the Jewish leadership on the local population.

    3. The early christians were much more concerned about the power and influence of the Jewish leadership than about Roman control (Give unto caesar and all that).

    4. Jesus was a popular local political/religious figure who was willing to martyr himself for his cause.

    So, it seems like the Romans and early Christians both had a motive or distinct interest in weakening the power of the Jewish leadership. The means was martyrdom by a local politician. The opportunity provided by some random subset of angry Jews (who notably were not willing to carry out the deed themselves!).

    Means, motive, opportunity. The only question is whether there was active collaboration in the endeavor.

  4. Matthew Jacobson says:

    Fact and Crucifiction:

    This article implicates me as a Christ-killer. To refuse to accept Church doctrine is to symbolically crucify Jesus. Jews, because of their evil resistance to the way, the truth, and the light, exist in a state of crucifying Jesus. Jews are satanic.

    Because (1) it is not blatantly inconsistent with Christian Gospels, (2) it is unlikely that US audiences will erupt in pogroms, and (3) evangelical Christians have been Israel’s best friends recently, a few prominent Jews are declaring the Passion kosher-for-Christians. But regardless of these valid points, there is every reason to think that this Passion movie has the same agenda than the Passion Plays of old, and to not reveal that agenda is no favor to Christians.

    Scapegoating Jews as the exemplars of evil, because of their rejection of Christianity, was Church doctrine all along, expressed in Passion Plays, inquisitions, etc. The Church fostered and passed along the insane hate that Russians (“Protocols”), Marx (“A World Without Jews”), and Hitler (“Mein Kampf”) would employ. After the Holocaust, the Pope finally officially renounced the Jew-scapegoating policy. Gibson and his father belong to a schismatic offshoot of the Church which never signed on to the Pope’s renunciation of Jew-scapegoating. Rather than contradicting his father’s overt pathological hatred of Jews, Gibson has only said that his dad taught him his faith and never lied to him.

    Serious analysis presents historical Jesus as yet another nonconformist Jew, among the quarter-million the Romans crucified. On the world stage of Passion re-play, what part is Gibson choosing to cast himself in?

  5. he’s casting himself as christ, that’s what he’s doing. he’s casting himself as the christ he wants to be. go back and view braveheart. he dies on the cross, brutally, bloodily in that movie. there is only one reason why it’s cavaziel and not gibson in the lead of PotC: gibson’s too old (it’s why he says he didn’t take the lead in Gladiator).

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